Encyclopedia Astronautica

Cutaway of the 6 m diameter Forpost Mars orbiter.
Credit: RKK Energia
Russian manned Mars expedition. Study 2000. In December 2000 Leonid Gorshkov of RKK Energia proposed a manned Mars orbital expedition as an alternative to Russian participation in the International Space Station.

The expedition would also provide the means for reviving Russian ascendancy in space. The Marpost (Mars Piloted Orbital Station) spacecraft would have a total mass of 400 metric tons and be assembled in low earth orbit from components assembled in four launches of a revived Energia launch vehicle.

As in the 1989 Energia Mars design, it would be powered to and from Mars by matrices of hundreds of solar-powered ion thrusters using xenon as propellant. Unlike the earlier expedition, the crew module would be an enormous 6-m diameter, 28 m long spacecraft housing a crew of six. This module seemed to be a throwback to the TMK-derived modules of the 1960's. Over a total expedition duration of two years the spacecraft would fly to Mars, spend a month or more in Mars orbit, obtain samples from the surface by operation of automated probes, and return to earth. Evidently the large station would be braked into earth orbit on return by the ion engines and was not equipped with a re-entry vehicle.

Based on values in the earlier studies, over half of the 400 metric ton initial mass would be xenon propellant, 100 metric tons for the Marpost station, and the remainder for engines and solar panels. Gorhskov's design was based on proven Russian technology - long-duration life support systems, xenon thrusters, and solar panels. This and massive redundancy and reparability would, he asserted, make the expedition entirely safe.

The cost of the scheme was estimated at 10 billion dollars. A relatively modest one billion dollar per year expenditure would allow Russia and any international partners to reach Mars well before the United States.

In 2001 an International Science and Technology Committee was established to facilitate interaction between Russian and Western scientists regarding plans for a manned expedition to Mars. The committee was composed of eight Russians, eight Americans and five EU delegates. Funding was provided for RKK Energia to coordinate development of a draft project for Marpost. Also involved in the study was the Russian Space Agency, Academy of Sciences, and the Institute for Biological and Medical Problems. In April 2005 it was announced that a 30-volume draft project had been completed for Marpost.

The concept now was for Marpost to be a reusable interplanetary spacecraft. It would fly to Mars using xenon-powered ion engines. The mission scenario was for a crew of six to fly to Mars. The crew would consist of a mission commander, a flight engineer, a physician, a pilot, a biologist, and a geologist. After entering Mars orbit, the pilot, biologist and geologist would take a Mars lander to the surface. After 30 days of scientific investigations, they would return to Marpost, which would then return to earth. It would place itself in orbit near the International Space Station. Total mission time would be 730 days.

A new concept Mars lander, with a mass of only 35 metric tons, had been designed, and a 1:200 scale model was tested in wind tunnels. The lander would bring the crew of three, a Marsokhod rover, and the ascent stage to the surface. The Institute for Biological and Medical Problems was preparing for a crew of six to spend 700 days in a closed-environment ground simulator. However funding was still considered a problem. Energia now estimated average costs of $1.5 billion and total development time at least 12 years. But this was still an order of magnitude less than US estimates, they noted.

Marpost Mission Summary:

  • Summary: Russian proposal for a national Mars expedition, using some new elements, at a fraction of the cost of US efforts.
  • Propulsion: Nuclear electric
  • Braking at Mars: propulsive
  • Mission Type: low acceleration
  • Split or All-Up: all up
  • ISRU: no ISRU
  • Launch Year: 2017
  • Crew: 6
  • Mars Surface payload-metric tons: 35
  • Outbound time-days: 415
  • Mars Stay Time-days: 30
  • Return Time-days: 285
  • Total Mission Time-days: 730
  • Total Payload Required in Low Earth Orbit-metric tons: 400
  • Total Propellant Required-metric tons: 200
  • Propellant Fraction: 0.50
  • Mass per crew-metric tons: 66
  • Launch Vehicle Payload to LEO-metric tons: 88
  • Number of Launches Required to Assemble Payload in Low Earth Orbit: 5
  • Launch Vehicle: Energia


Crew Size: 6.

AKA: Mars Piloted Orbital Station; RKK Energia.
Gross mass: 400,000 kg (880,000 lb).
Unfuelled mass: 399,800 kg (881,400 lb).
Height: 600.00 m (1,960.00 ft).
Span: 280.00 m (910.00 ft).
Thrust: 441 N (99 lbf).
Specific impulse: 4,000 s.

More... - Chronology...

Associated Countries
See also
  • Mars Expeditions Since Wernher von Braun first sketched out his Marsprojekt in 1946, a succession of designs and mission profiles were seriously studied in the United States and the Soviet Union. By the late 1960's Von Braun had come to favour nuclear thermal rocket powered expeditions, while his Soviet counterpart Korolev decided that nuclear electric propulsion was the way to go. All such work stopped in both countries in the 1970's, after the cancellation of the Apollo program in the United States and the N1 booster in the Soviet Union. More...
  • Russian Mars Expeditions Aelita was the Queen of Mars in the famous socialist parable filmed by Jakov Protazanov in 1924. It was altogether fitting that her name would be given to the leading Soviet plan for the conquest of the Red Planet. The Soviet Union's Korolev had the same original dream as Wernher von Braun - a manned expedition to Mars. In both cases this goal was interrupted by the 'side show' of the moon race of the 1960's. In both cases that race proved so costly and of so little public interest that political support for any Mars expeditions evaporated. More...

Associated Launch Vehicles
  • Energia The Energia-Buran Reusable Space System (MKS) began development in 1976 as a Soviet booster that would exceed the capabilities of the US shuttle system. Following extended development, Energia made two successful flights in 1987-1988. But the Soviet Union was crumbling, and the ambitious plans to build an orbiting defense shield, to renew the ozone layer, dispose of nuclear waste, illuminate polar cities, colonize the moon and Mars, were not to be. Funding dried up and the Energia-Buran program completely disappeared from the government's budget after 1993. More...

Associated Manufacturers and Agencies
  • Korolev Russian manufacturer of rockets, spacecraft, and rocket engines. Korolev Design Bureau, Kaliningrad, Russia. More...

Associated Propellants
  • Electric/Xenon The many versions of electric engines use electric or magnetic fields to accelerate ionized elements to high velocity, creating thrust. The power source can be a nuclear reactor or thermal-electric generator, or solar panels. Proposed as propellant for some ion motors. More...

  • Karash, Yuri Yureyevich, "Rossiskaya orbitalnaya stantsiya gotova startovat k Marsu.", Nezavisimaya Gazeta, 20 December 2000. Web Address when accessed: here.

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